By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: a dramatic moment in Episode 12 of the 78-part “Qin Dynasty Epic” TV movies series, which was a smash hit across China, when it came out in 2019.
Right here, it takes just a second…
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Note before starting: At the end of this post, you can download this entire series, plus a recommended documentary on the Qin Dynasty, for FREE, from my extensive Chinese film library!
As well, the video background is Episode 12 and the green screen cannot load the English subtitles, but they ARE there when you play the MP4 files. I suggest using VLC VideoLan Player. Free and the best…
For the third capsule on Chinese culture and history, I propose an excerpt of nine minutes (from 36′ to 45′) from Episode 12 of the 78-part TV movie series “Qin Dynasty Epic”, produced in 2019. “Epic” was added to its name, since there are documentaries and other films using the eponymous name.
Capsule 1 was on Liu Bang and Ziying, 207 BCE.
By his state, Qin, Ziying gave China her name.
By his first kingdom, Liu Bang gave the Chinese people their name, the Han.
Chinese Film Culture and History Series: “The Legend of Chu and Han”, Episode 41, as explained by Dr. Quan Le. China Rising Radio Sinoland 210429
Capsule 2 was on Confucius and Nanzi, 496 BCE.
By his life, Master Kong opened Heaven for all.
By her life, Princess Nanzi embodied Earth for all.
Chinese Film Culture and History Series: “Confucius” directed by Hu Mei (2010, with English subtitles), as explained by Dr. Quan Le. China Rising Radio Sinoland 210507
Capsule 3 (this one) is on The First Emperor, his father (circa 247 BCE) and his family (which lasted two millennia).
By the Vision and Endeavor of the Noble House of Ying,
The IDEA of the Chinese Nation was born.
By the intact, inborn, luminous virtue of the Peasant Son of Heaven, the Han people still embody on Earth THE ETERNAL IDEA THAT IS CHINA.
These 3 capsules form a triptych:
#1: THE PEASANT SON OF HEAVEN.
#2: THE PHILOSOPHER-KING.
#3: THE EMPEROR.
A simple summation of Chinese governance and the Mandate of Heaven,
CHINA IS AN ETERNAL IDEA ESPOUSING HISTORY, THUS APPEARING ACROSS TIME.
THIS IDEA IS EMBODIED BY MEN OF FLESH AND BLOOD.
AT EACH GENERATION, SOME HEAVENLY MEN CONCENTRATE WITHIN THEM THE BRIGHTEST INBORN, LUMINOUS VIRTUE.
THEY ARE RECOGNIZED AS SONS OF HEAVEN BY THEIR OWN PEOPLE.
THEY MANIFEST IN PHENOMENAL REALITY, THE EVERLASTING DANCE OF HEAVEN AND EARTH.
Please bear with me, because the explanations below are longer this time…
What is remarkable in this film production is that the producers and team took into serious account archaeological discoveries, and the results of historical research of the last 50 years.
It is obvious when you look at the costumes, the armor, swords, spears, bows, crossbows, the war chariot plated with metal, the hair styles, even to the make-up of the actress in the role of Lady Zhao Ji, the wife of King Zhuangxiang and mother of the First Emperor of China. Let us not forget the authentic architecture of the towers, seen in the excerpt as well.
But before I comment on the nine-minute scene itself, I need to give a general historical perspective, hoping it will help you to appreciate, as connoisseurs, the images, the dialogues and the emotional reverberations of the speech of young Prince Zheng, and the song shared by the Qin Royal Family, the Soldiers and the People.
The Royal House of Zhou (lasting from 1046 BCE to 256 BCE) truly ruled from 1046 BCE to 770 BCE. Historians called that period The Western Zhou Dynasty, their Capital City being in the west at Fenghao, near present-day Xi’an.
After a major defeat against a coalition of disgruntled feudal lords and northwestern tribes, the Zhou sovereign moved his Capital City to the east, at present-day Luoyang, hence the name Eastern Zhou Dynasty, or Period.
The Eastern Zhou Period was further divided in the Chun Qiu Era (the Spring and Autumn Era, from 770 BCE to 453 BCE) and the Zhan Guo Era (the Warring States Era, from 453 BCE to 221 BCE). Be informed that depending on the historical schools, the year chosen for the end of Chun Qiu and the beginning of Zhan Guo might differ a little bit. I chose 453 BCE.
From 770 BCE to 720 BCE, the long reign of King Ping was giving hope that the Royal House would return to its heyday. But it was not the case. Therefore, from 720 BCE to the foundation of the First Chinese Empire five centuries later, in 221 BCE, the Zhou Kings were mere ceremonial figures, except in their ever-shrinking Royal Domain. They were really respected though, because they were the Sons of Heaven, the embodiment of Chinese Civilization.
It was much like the situation of feudal Japan between 1185 and 1868. During those seven centuries, except for some sovereigns, most of the Japanese Emperors were ceremonial figures, truly respected, because they were also the embodiment of Japanese Civilization, but devoid of military and administrative powers, if we neglect the small Domain of the Imperial House. These powers were in the hands of the Sei-I-Tai-Shogun (Generalissimo Conquering the Barbarians) or the Shikken, the Chief Administrator for the Shogun.
Let us return to Ancient China. Plenty of small states existed during those five centuries. In 720 BCE, at the death of King Ping, they were about 120; at the death of Confucius in 479 BCE, around 40 states. Needless to say, the number of polities decreased because many were absorbed by stronger neighbors. In 256 BCE, the year the Royal House of Zhou ceased to exist, they were exactly seven. They are called in Chinese Qi Xiong (the Seven Heroes or the Seven Heroic Pretenders, Pretenders to the Empire, of course). They were:
Han (with the 2nd tone and conquered by Qin in 230 BCE).
Zhao (conquered in 228 BCE).
Yan (conquered in 226 and 222 BCE).
Wei (conquered by Qin in 225 BCE).
Chu (conquered in 223 BCE).
Qi (conquered in 221 BCE).
And last but not least, Qin, which would unify China for the first time. (Qin were conquered by the Peasant Son of Heaven Liu Bang (born 256 BCE – died 195 BCE) aka The Lofty Progenitor (Gaozu), founder of the 400-year-long Han Dynasty.
The Noble House of Ying was granted a fiefdom by King Xiao of Zhou, who ruled from 872 BCE to 866 BCE. A century later, when King Ping fled to the East in 770 BCE, Duke Xiang of Qin (ruling from 777 BCE to 766 BCE) escorted His Majesty to his Eastern Capital City.
The small fiefdom named Qin, that the Ying had at the western end of the Western Region, was enlarged tremendously after these events. They were capable, after the departure of King Ping, to conquer decisively the disenfranchised noblemen and the disheveled northwestern tribesmen, who had defeated the Royal House in 770 BCE.
I give here an excerpt of The Annals of Qin by the Chinese Grand Historian Sima Qian (born circa 145 BCE – died circa 86 BCE), according to the translation by Burton Watson (born 1925 – died 2017), published by The Chinese University of Hong-Kong and Columbia University Press:
Duke Xiang led his troops to escort King Ping to the new capital. King Ping enfeoffed Duke Xiang as one of the feudal lords, bestowing on him the land from Mt. Qi onwards west.
The Rong have behaved in an unprincipled manner, invading and seizing our lands of Qi and Feng, he said. But Qin has succeeded in attacking and driving out the Rong, and therefore, he shall possess these lands.
Thus, the King swore an oath with Duke Xiang, bestowing a fief and title on him.
For the people desiring to investigate in depth about the actors and events of that era, I strongly recommend a book by Professor Li Feng:
Landscape and Power in Early China: The crisis and Fall of the Western Zhou, 1045 BCE – 771 BCE
Published by Cambridge University Press (2006)
Now let us take a leap of four centuries forward, to the succession of Ying family nobles.
YING (family name) QULIANG (given name), (born 381 BCE – died 338 BCE) was the last Duke of Qin (or practically the last duke of Qin, so to speak).
As Duke of Qin, he ruled from 361 BCE to his death.
His regnal name is Duke Xiao of Qin.
Xiao means Filial, a major Chinese and Human virtue.
He made major reforms and they were the foundations for his son Ying Si to go further.
I mention here Lord Shang Yang, aka Wei Yang, aka Gongsun Yang (born circa 390 BCE – died 338 BCE), who headed up the reform program. This man deserves a later capsule only for himself.
YING SI (born 356 BCE – died 311 BCE) was the first man of the Noble House of Ying to declare himself King. This happened in 325 BCE. Practically a century later, 221 BCE, his great-great grandson Ying Zheng would become the First Emperor of China.
From 338 BCE to 325 BCE, Ying Si was Duke of Qin, like his father.
He was King Huiwen (Good and Cultured) from 325 BCE to his death in 311 BCE. In 316 BCE, he incorporated the region of Ba (centered around present-day Chongqing, south of Sichuan) and the region of Shu (centered around present-day Chengdu, Sichuan). It goes without saying that the resources of those two resource-rich lands were of utmost importance for his Family Grand Endeavor:
一 统 天 下 (Yi1 Tong2 Tian1 Xia4): Unification of The World (For the “Chinese” of that time, “China” was “The World”, as for the Westerners, the Mediterranean basin was “The World”).
YING DANG (born 329 BCE – died 307 BCE) was King Wu, from 310 BCE to 307 BCE. He was the great grand-uncle of the First Emperor. He died after his knee-caps were broken in a cauldron-lifting competition, between him and some of his stalwart officers.
YING JI (born 325 BCE – died 251 BCE) was born the year his father proclaimed himself King. He is known to history as King Zhaoxiang (Dazzling and Towering), ruling from 306 BCE to 251 BCE.
At 70-years of age, King Zhaoxiang put an end to the Royal House of Zhou in 256 BCE.
YING ZHU (born 303 BCE – died 251 BCE) was King Xiaowen (Filial and Cultured). He ruled for about a year (November, 251 BCE to November 250 BCE) and died three days after his coronation.
YING ZICHU (born 281 BCE – died 247 BCE) was King, named Zhuangxiang (Magnificent and Towering), ruling from 250 BCE to 247 BCE. At a young age, he was a hostage in the rival Kingdom of Zhao. He was known then as Prince Yiren. A scheming and extremely wealthy merchant named Lü Buwei gave him a life of splendor in Zhao and a wife, Zhao Ji.
Lü Buwei’s father said to his son that he was at the peak of wealth and if he wished to advance further, he would have to invest in a special merchandise, meaning Princes and Kings.
Zhao Ji was Lü’s concubine, yet one day, Prince Yiren looked at her with lust and the woman was offered to the Prince. The scandalmongers, among whom was Grand Historian Sima Qian (born circa 145 BCE – died circa 86 BCE) suggested that The First Emperor was the biological son of Lü Buwei, because Zhao Ji was already pregnant when she went to live with Prince Yiren. Many serious historians nowadays consider it slander to tarnish the achievements of the First Emperor. But why not?
The only certain thing is that many Chinese (in the past, the present and probably in the future) believe the scandalmongers.
Prince Yiren’s biological mother was Lady Xia, but his father’s favorite wife was Lady Huayang (royals and the wealthy, who could afford it were polygamous). So Lü Buwei used his riches to successfully woo Lady Huayang, who persuaded her husband Lord Anguo (future King Xiaowen) to recall his son Prince Yiren to the Court and to make him his heir. Lady Huayang had no son. Prince Yiren was adopted by her and given a new name, Zichu, meaning son of Chu because Lady Huayang was a Princess from the Kingdom of Chu. And some years later, Prince Zichu became King.
YING ZHENG (born February 18, 259 BCE – died September 10, 210 BCE), was son of King Zhuangxiang (or Lü BuWei?).
He was, therefore, King of Qin from July 5, 247 BCE to 221 BCE and First Emperor of China from 221 BCE to October 10, 210 BCE.
I will not go into the details of Ying Zheng’s rule in this capsule, instead I will describe the nine-minute scene from the TV movie series, Qin Dynasty Epic.
The man in white is Li Si (born 280 BCE to died 208 BCE), the Chancellor, in his mature years.
The man sporting a big black hat with red ribbons on each side is Marquess Lü Buwei (born 290 BCE – died 235 BCE), the Chancellor of his youth (and maybe his biological father?)
The old general is Meng Ao, his son Meng Wu, grandsons Meng Tian and Meng Yi would contribute tremendously to the Grand Endeavor of Uniting the Chinese World.
The man sharing the war chariot with him is obviously his father King Zhuangxiang.
The woman with the special make-up style around the eyes is his mother, Lady Zhao Ji (born 280 BCE – died 228 BCE).
From here, I don’t need to do much because the scene speaks for itself.
I just want to write down the speech of young Ying Zheng. Please imagine a young lad of 13 years, that was his age when his father died in 247 BCE and he thus became King of Qin. He announced,
Elite soldiers of Qin,
The world has been in chaos for five centuries.
Our ancestors, fathers and brothers have shed countless quantities of blood.
Do you still want your descendants, wives and children to live in such a chaotic world?
Then let us start war and end the chaos, as to unite all the states.
Only by uniting them as one country can you put down the dagger-axes and spears in your hands.
Only by uniting them as one country can the world be peaceful.
Now the song shared by the Qin Royal Family, the Noblemen, the Soldiers and the People of Qin:
I’ll share my armor with you,
The King gets ready for the war.
I repair my dagger-axe and spear,
To fight against the same foe with you.
Why do you say there’s nothing to wear?
I’ll share my shirt with you,
I repair my spears and shackles to fight,
With you side by side.
Why do you say there’s nothing to wear?
The excellent documentary below, in Chinese with English subtitles can be seen as a technical appendix to this capsule on the First Emperor and his family, the Ying Noble House.
Technical topics such as: the industrial production of weapons and their quality control, the organization of the Qin army, logistics, food production, chariots and horses, the battlefield, etc.
Download the entire English-subtitled, 78-episode movie series of Qin Dynasty Epic right here for FREE, from my extensive Chinese film collection!
Pictured above: Episode 12 outtake, depicting a Qin Dynasty military parade.
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